I went shopping today with my wife. I owed it to her—I haven’t been so kind-hearted in a long while and she had some gift cards that she needed to use.

It isn’t that I don’t go shopping with her—I often go to Aldi and HEB grocery shopping. While there she will send me off to get the milk and eggs and we meet in the area near the bananas, peaches and green beans. This is not unusual and I “kind of” enjoy it, especially if we have 15 or fewer items and can go through the “express” check-out line at HEB. (Aldi doesn’t have or seem to need them—their cash register check-out employees are at least twice as fast as those at HEB.)

I also occasionally go with my wife to Target (we try not to use their bathrooms), the Dollar store or Drug Emporium, where I get lost trying to find aspirin because it is a gigantic store with all kinds of merchandise, the Thrift store, or Tuesday Morning (hardly ever on Tuesdays). So, you can see, I am fairly used to “sort-of shopping” with my wife.

But today will be different and I know it. We are going to Belk and Bealls with a stop for lunch in between. It will be a long day. Belk and Bealls are clothing stores and there are hundreds of racks with thousands of selections to choose from—all on sale, of course. And today is Tuesday with insidious sales for seniors.

The Belk store is at Central Market Place, a so-called mall, near highway 6, so I often see it when we go “downtown” to Waco. It is actually a suburb of stores in a long line, with speed bumps and parking lots spread out over acres of cement. There are occasional trees that were planted in the parking lots but have since withered, runt-like in appearance, due to the generous amounts of heat radiation and carbon monoxide that they put up with. Some people like to park by or, when possible, under such trees, but the birds like to perch on them and pepper the cars with disgusting splats that stick like glue to the cars and gradually eat away the paint.

Once arriving at the Market, we wind our way over a series of speed bumps and find a place to park. There is plenty of parking places today, so we pull in opposite the front doors of Belk, the store my wife so eagerly wants to explore. And why not? She has a gift card worth $50 that she got for Christmas and she has waited a long time to use it.

“Where will I find you?” my wife asks, knowing that my interest in blouses and their kin is severely tested after 5 minutes. “I’ll wander down to the men’s department” and off I wander. There are all kinds of clearance and sales racks so I casually examine them, then the baskets of assorted stuff that you bump into in the aisles. Not much suits my fancy, but I do pick up a couple of undershorts at one basket. They are not only on sale (70% off, although they look like they are normal in size), but also are marked with that wonderful “red dot”, which means an extra 20% off at the cash register.

Satisfied with my bargain I eventually go to the women’s department (most of the store) and begin the long walk to try and find my wife. “Can I help you?” asks a smiling clerk. “Not unless you know where my wife is”, I answer. That always brings a smile or a chuckle. “Imagine that old man looking for his wife”, they think, “He will never find her in here.”

When I look for my wife in a big store (or even a medium-sized one) and am frustrated, I will sometimes let out a high-pierced loud Kewa yodel (from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea). People will look up, alarmed and ready to call 911, but, if I am lucky, I will hear a lower-pierced soft yodel returned by my wife and I can then find her more quickly.

But it will not be easy: she is short and the racks hide her. But there she is, with 5 blouses of various brilliant colors in tow. “I have to try these on and there is no sense in just taking one”, she explains. We find the women’s fitting room and it has three chairs outside the stalls. These are the only chairs in the store and I wish I had found them earlier. It takes 30 minutes to try on the clothes, make decisions, and we then have to find someone at a “service” desk, surely an error in nomenclature. It isn’t a desk and there is not much service at several places. Finally, we find an operational service area and get in line. A woman is buying several items and can’t find her credit card in an enormous bag, sometimes called a purse. She explores, shakes out various workings and finally there it is—actually there they are. She has to sort through 50 cards to find the right one—my wife will repeat the same exercise later.

It is our turn and the clerk explains the various sales that are on, which item is a red dot, and so on. “Where is my gift card?” my wife asks. I don’t know. She continues to explore, with a seemingly unending supply of apparati falling from her purse. “I must have left it home. Oh, yes I remember that when we went to Houston last week, I put the small plastic bag of cards on my dresser so we wouldn’t lose them.” By now other customers are looking tired and displeased. The clerk offers to put the merchandise aside while we drive back home for the card. We do, and we find it and 25 minutes later we are back retrieving our stuff. “That was quick,” my wife says, “It only took 15 minutes.” She is wrong, but who is counting?

We leave Belk and head to Panera—we have another gift card for our lunch. “I’ll get a table for us, just get something”, I implore. She knows I have reached my limit without food. She goes off to order and two fairly large but young women sit down at a table near me. They whip out their cell phones, like cowboys used to do their guns (and still do in Waco), to see if they have possibly missed something in the two minutes they haven’t looking at them. They are absorbed, reading and texting, and their meal arrives: two large bowls of salad and bread the size of a soccer ball—sawn in half. I try not to stare and fortunately my wife arrives with our black bean soup, her salad (much smaller) and my half a sandwich.

We munch and talk, fairly loudly because we forgot our hearing aids, and the two women get up, throw away most their food and leave. Did we offend them or interrupt their texting? We will never know.

We finish eating, throwing nothing away (we are missionaries) and leave for Bealls. That is a store I know well because it is in a smaller Mall. Just outside one of the doors with the search-alarm gates, is an apparatus that lets kids bounce into the air by means of bungee ropes attached to poles. Each child is weighed and the tension of the bungees are adjusted so that the kid can go high, do flips and somersaults and not get hurt. There are a number of comfortable lounge chairs near the area, so I watch for a while, then return to the car for the book I had forgotten and do some reading. There are also “Mall walkers” to watch—regular customers with their sneakers and Nike shorts or shirts who follow the inside perimeters of the Mall. One is a fairly old man with a long beard—he must have been walking a long time.

I am half finished with the book of Luke when I sense that my wife is about done. I walk to the nearest “service” area and, sure enough, there she is. We smile and I signal that I will retreat to the end of the store near the exit. This time there is no delay and we are soon off for home. No, in the distance I hear “Do you remember that we need milk and bananas?”

HEB grocery store is our last stop and we do it in less than 10 minutes by using the express lane. Why don’t Belk and Bealls have them? When they email me a questionnaire about my shopping experience, I might make that suggestion.

A Tuesday in Waco
July 12, 2016